Recently, GAP clothing changed their logo, sparking worldwide debate and criticism, eventually resulting in them reinstating their original logo. The reason? The new logo didn’t ‘feel’ like GAP. This feeling that logos generate in the consumer are part of the product’s brand: “Brand is about meaning…your brand is the sum total of all the meanings that all your possible audiences carry around about you in their heads and in their hearts… Brand gives you stability, growth potential, loyalty and longevity.”  If you have a good brand, you create a following of faithful consumers who not only actively choose your product over others but also advocate on your behalf (think Apple). In addition, brands help you to sell more than a product – you sell an experience. For example, Starbucks used to brand themselves as the ‘third place’; after work and home, Starbucks is the third place one would choose. And because one is not just offering a cup of coffee but also a place, £3 for a coffee-based drink seems legit. Brands are vital in a consumer world as products compete for a limited number of buyers.
So why consider branding in a blog about theology and the arts? A church near where I grew up has recently re-branded, including changing their name and visual identity, most interestingly dropping the denominational affiliation from their name. Here is the reason for this change according to their website: ‘Greater CLARITY in our communication, cause, and our convictions. Greater UNITY in our fellowship. Greater VISION about who we are and where we want to go. Greater SYNERGY which leads to greater effectiveness, partnerships, and results.’ This change to their name, as expressed by the minister, has been a five-year process of discerning both the right name and the right time. In addition, they claim that despite the drop of the denomination, they are ‘more Baptist than ever.’ A quick Google search shows that this is not an uncommon phenomenon with many websites and blogs provide how-to guides for a church’s re-branding process, some even recommending that it should be done every 2-4 years. The reason according to some: ‘People like seeing that the church knows itself. And, if you don’t give yourself a brand, then others will. Brand yourself before you get a nickname!’
While it is important that a church be clear in its communication and provide an accessible way-in for those in the community, I’d like to pose three questions in regard to this interesting phenomenon:
1. Does re-branding, especially in cases where the denomination is removed from the name, assert an autonomy against the church’s history? One’s denomination is not only a theological affiliation but it is also a historical affiliation that places a church within a trajectory of church history. Is something lost in public perception when that historical and theological orientation is visually diminished? Does the church name risk becoming generic and thus ceasing to communicate the richness of its historical past?
2. Does an emphasis on branding assume a competition between churches? I ask this because at the basis of branding is positioning oneself over and against the other products on the market so that a consumer will choose yours over the competitors. By introducing branding into the church sphere, are we inadvertently introducing language that could be detrimental to church unity?
3. As was seen with GAP, Apple, and Starbucks, consumers identify with the brand and what that brand represents. When it comes to churches, what are we asking people to identify with – our church’s ‘brand’ or the Christ which we seek to follow? How do we insure that the latter remains the focus in our aim to attract?